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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. CHARLES EUGENE CROSS (08/14/85)

decided: August 14, 1985.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, APPELLEE,
v.
CHARLES EUGENE CROSS, APPELLANT



No. 64 W.D. Appeal Docket 1982. Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence of the Court of Common Pleas of Beaver County, Pennsylvania, (Criminal v. Division) entered on December 1, 1982, at No. 565 of 1981

COUNSEL

Bernard Rabik, Beaver, for appellant.

Edward Tocci, Dist. Atty., John Lee Brown, Jr., Asst. Dist. Atty., for appellee.

Nix, C.j., and Larsen, Flaherty, McDermott, Hutchinson, Zappala and Papadakos, JJ. Nix, C.j., files a concurring opinion in which Flaherty, J., joins. Hutchinson and Zappala, JJ., concur in the result.

Author: Papadakos

[ 508 Pa. Page 326]

Opinion OF THE COURT

Charles Eugene Cross was found guilty by a jury of murder of the first degree for the killings of Denise Lucic and her two children, Danielle Lucic, aged seven (7) years and John Lucic, Jr., aged three (3) years. After the jury rendered the verdicts of guilty, the required sentencing hearing was conducted on March 3, 1982.*fn1 At the sentencing

[ 508 Pa. Page 327]

    hearing, the Commonwealth presented evidence seeking to establish two of the aggravating circumstances listed in 42 Pa.C.S. ยง 9711(d). These were that the defendant had a significant history of felony convictions involving the use or threat of violence to the person, Section 9711(d)(9); and that the defendant had been convicted of another Federal or State Offense, committed either before or at the time of the offense at issue, for which a sentence of life imprisonment or death was imposable, Section 9711(d)(10).

Defense counsel presented evidence in an effort to establish four mitigating circumstances, specifically: (1) that the defendant had no significant history of prior criminal convictions, Section 9711(e)(1); (2) that the defendant was under the influence of extreme mental or emotional disturbance at the time of the offense, Section 9711(e)(2); (3) that the capacity of the defendant to appreciate the criminality of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of law was substantially impaired, Section 9711(e)(3); and (4) that there were other mitigating circumstances, Section 9711(e)(8).

After hearing the evidence, and deliberating thereon, the jury, finding that the two aggravating circumstances outweighed any mitigating circumstances, determined that the defendant be sentenced to death upon all three counts of murder. This direct appeal followed.*fn2

For the reasons stated herein, we affirm Appellant's convictions of murder of the first degree, and uphold the sentences of death.

The evidence presented at the guilt stage of the trial established that on August 4, 1981, between the hours of 5:00 p.m. and 6:15 p.m., Denise Lucic and her two small children, Danielle and John Jr., were slain in their home at 1530 Duss Avenue in the Borough of Ambridge, Beaver County, Pennsylvania. Denise Lucic died as a result of

[ 508 Pa. Page 328]

    first being strangled and then having her throat cut with a sharp knife or other instrument. Her son, John, Jr., died as a result of slashing wounds to the throat so deep that decapitation almost resulted. Her daughter, Danielle, died as a result of strangulation and stab wounds to the neck and chest. The stab wounds were caused by an instrument such as a screwdriver or ice pick.

The scene of these killings was the house where the victims lived with John Lucic, Sr., the husband and father of the victims. The Ambridge police arrived at the scene at 6:15 p.m. on August 4, 1981. The bodies of Denise and John, Jr., were discovered side by side on the floor of a small bedroom at the top of the stairs on the second floor. The bodies were covered with blood, and there was blood on the walls and ceiling of the room. The body of Danielle was found in a small adjoining bedroom with a blood-smeared pillow stuffed into her mouth.

Appellant raises numerous issues in his appeal. First, he challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to sustain a conviction of murder of the first degree.

The record presents the following tragic tale. Appellant and John Lucic, Sr. were employees of the F.D. Strano Company. Appellant was employed as a roofer and Lucic was a foreman. In the fall of 1980, the two had a work-related confrontation. On August 4, 1981, Appellant approached another employee, Raymond Ours, and told him he was going to kill Lucic's wife and children and asked Ours if he would help him do it. Ours refused, and told other members of the work crew what Appellant had said. At the end of the work day at 5:00 p.m., Appellant left work and went to the Lucic residence, which was about a ten minute walk from the F.D. Strano Company premises.

Two fellow employees observed Appellant at 6:00 p.m. coming from the direction of the Lucic residence, and running through a park in Ambridge, toward the F.D. Strano Company property. Appellant was very excited and he was not wearing his glasses. His hand was wrapped in a white rag and there were red stains on the back of his shirt which

[ 508 Pa. Page 329]

    appeared to be blood. When asked by the two co-workers what had happened, he replied that he had fallen off a ladder and hurt his nose. He then went into the F.D. Strano premises and into a bathroom at the back of the building. When he came out of the bathroom shortly thereafter, he was in an agitated condition and told one of the employees who had previously observed him that he had been to the Lucic house and had found the family with their throats slashed from ear to ear. He then said to the employee, "Please don't tell anybody." The employee with whom he was speaking advised him to go to the police. Appellant then walked one block to the Ambridge Police Station, arriving with what police observed as blood stains on his clothing, and took the police to the Lucic residence. After the police viewed the bodies and the premises, Appellant was placed under arrest, and advised of his constitutional rights.

The next day, a search warrant was obtained for the F.D. Strano building, and a utility knife was found in the rafters of the bathroom that Appellant had used the previous evening after coming from the Lucic house. The utility knife was one commonly used by workers at F.D. Strano to cut shingles, and was marked with the name "Cross" on it. It was identified as belonging to Appellant. Blood residue on the knife was identified by expert testimony as being a mixture of the blood of John, Jr., and Denise Lucic. Further expert testimony established that there was blood from all three victims on Appellant's shirt and pants. The pillow found on Danielle was sent to the F.B.I. Crime Laboratory in Washington D.C., and a fingerprint expert from that laboratory testified at trial that Appellant's palm print was on the pillow.

Appellant took the stand in his defense and testified that on August 4, 1981, he left work at 5:10 p.m. to go to the Lucic house to give an estimate for repair work on their bathroom. He stated that he had received a phone call a week or two earlier from a caller he assumed was Denise Lucic because the caller had asked for John Lucic. The

[ 508 Pa. Page 330]

    caller suggested that Appellant could give her a bid on repair work for her bathroom. Although he had never mentioned the phone call or the repair work to John Lucic, Sr., Appellant decided on August 4 to walk up to the Lucic house and make a bid. When he arrived at the Lucic house, he knocked and received no answer. The door was open and he went in and called out for Mrs. Lucic. Receiving no answer, he went upstairs and into a bedroom. There, he said, he found the bodies of Mrs. Lucic and the little boy covered with blood. He started to step over the boy to get to Mrs. Lucic when his knee gave way and he fell on top of the little boy. Next, he knelt beside Mrs. Lucic, picked her up and cradled her in his arms, checking for a pulse on her wrist and neck. Finding no pulse, he laid her back down.

He testified that, at this point, he broke down and cried. He reached for a handkerchief in his back pocket and when he pulled it out, his utility knife and a screwdriver that he had in his pocket came out and fell into a pool of blood on the floor. He picked up the knife and screwdriver and walked into the little girl's bedroom where he found her lying on the floor with a pillow stuffed in her mouth. Appellant testified that he removed the pillow and checked to see if she was breathing. There was no movement so he replaced the pillow "the way (he) found it."

He then returned to the bedroom where he had first found John, Jr. and Denise Lucic, and moved the bodies because "(he) figured (he'd) better put all the bodies back the way (he'd) found them." Appellant then testified that as he was going downstairs he fell down the steps and broke his glasses.

The jury found Appellant guilty on each of three counts of murder of the first degree, and the same jury determined that Appellant ...


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